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Proletarian issue 15 (December 2006)
McDonnell’s Labour leadership bid
‘Old’, ‘New’, ‘Real’ – the Labour Party in all its disguises is a party of imperialism that cannot be reclaimed
“Tony, Tony, Tony – out, out, out!” This is a slogan heard on many recent demonstrations, but, far from being a rallying cry to express disillusion with the Labour Party, this slogan is being put forward by opportunists on the ‘left’ to try to salvage support for the increasingly unpopular Labour Party.

It is true that Tony Blair has been exposed as a staunch representative of monopoly capitalism and an enemy of the working class. However, it is not because he is Tony Blair but because he is the leader of the Labour Party that he behaves as he does, and the only people in Britain who can say that the Labour Party over the last decade has done a good job of running the country are heads of multinational corporations.

After nearly a decade of privatisation, war, lies and hypocrisy, the veil, scanty as it was, obscuring the real imperialist nature of the Labour Party has become even more transparent. We have to remember that this is the party that for decades has been used to keep the working class in check by creating the false expectation that, if only a Labour government can be installed, reform is possible and a ‘decent’ life for all can be attained under capitalism. For a century, this myth has been giving workers the impression that, if only we can make the capitalists care, if only they knew about our suffering, they would be overcome with benevolence and would immediately set about putting things right; that, if the working class would only demand reform loudly enough, capitalism can somehow be made to see reason. In short, it is the politics of social democracy, which is nothing more than a prop for imperialism.

The current growth in dissatisfaction with the Labour Party offers a window of opportunity for finally loosening the stranglehold of social democracy round the neck of the working-class movement. Rather than encouraging this long-overdue break with social democracy, ‘left’ Labour MP John McDonnell, who is himself is an inveterate social democrat, laments that “[those who] enthusiastically came out to vote for us [Labour] nearly a decade ago to get rid of the Tories have been turned into a bitter, disillusioned, stay-at-home vote”. McDonnell correctly points out that this coalition of voters “has not just been broken up – it is rapidly being mobilised in anger against us”. (Quoted in The Morning Star, 24 November 2006)

New leadership

With Tony Blair on his last legs, the battle for leadership of the Labour Party is underway. This is a battle that is of little consequence to the majority of the working class, for, as with the Tories, it is a battle over which of the competing careerists will get to speak for the capitalist financiers that the Labour Party serves.

Of course, it is pretty obvious that Gordon Brown would make no changes to current government policies, and even the Labour ‘left’ have difficulty in dressing up his substitution for Blair as an improvement. So the left Labour bandwagon has got going and John McDonnell MP has taken up the mantle to fight for leadership to ‘win back’ the ‘real’ Labour Party.

Rather than helping to bury social democracy, the John4Leader campaign picks it up, dusts it off and calls the working class to rally behind it to attempt another decade of fighting for scraps from the table of imperialism. In trying to mobilise working people back into the Labour Party so they can vote for this great saviour, the left Labour bandwagon and its hangers-on are doing their best to cover up the actual record of the so-called ‘old’ Labour they want to restore.

‘Real’ Labour

In calling for a return to ‘real’ Labour, the John McDonnell campaign, enthusiastically supported by Trotskyites and revisionists, is encouraging people to looking back with rose-tinted glasses and to look forward with utopian, social-democratic illusions. They desperately try to hide the fact that the Labour Party has never been a party fighting for the working class. Since its inception it has had a history, both in power and in opposition, of defending and promoting the ruling class.

It is not the case that the recent wars perpetrated by ‘new’ Labour have been a sudden blemish on a record of a peace-loving and humanitarian party. On the contrary, since the first world war, the Labour Party has an unblemished record of instigating and supporting imperialist warmongering, whether in power or in opposition.

For example, under Labour’s first government in 1924, British forces gunned down and jailed demonstrators in India and bombed villages in Iraq. Under Attlee’s 1945 government, Palestine was handed over to the zionists; intensification of the exploitation in Ghana, Kenya, Malaya and other colonies took place; support was given to the French in their attempt to control Indo-China; 12,000 troops were sent to fight against North Korea in a war of aggression against the progressive forces of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

It was under Attlee that the only ‘peace time’ conscription was introduced, as “Britain had considerable obligations[!] … there was Germany to be occupied with 100,000 troops; and Austria too … there was Palestine to be policed, Aden to be protected, the Suez Canal Zone to be held down – as well as Cyprus, Singapore, Hong Kong and a chain of lesser military bases.” (‘The making of modern Britain – the peacetime conscription’ by David Prest, BBC News Online)

Indeed, a veritable empire that the ‘old’ Labour Party was dedicated to protecting at all costs.

Then there is the use of troops to break strikes at home. This is not something carried out only by Thatcher against the miners: right back in 1924, Ramsay MacDonald used the Emergency Powers Act, the army and secret police to break strikes, arrest and spy on activists, and evict unemployed people from their homes. The 1945 Attlee government maintained the wartime ban on strikes and continued to use the army to break strikes, as did Labour governments under Wilson and Callaghan.

It is clear that the ‘real’ Labour Party that the John McDonnell campaign says that it is fighting to reclaim is a figment of the imagination; the real record of the Labour Party stands for all to see. Temporary reformist gains that have been possible under both Labour and Tory are under threat. Imperialism is in deep crisis and the sops from its table that have been used to quell the revolutionary aspirations of the working class are rapidly diminishing – hence cuts in wages, pensions and social provision of all kinds, from housing to health care. The Labour Party, ‘new’, ‘old’, ‘real’ or whatever, has less and less room to deliver on reformism. And no left Labourite, whether John McDonnell, Tony Benn or Jeremy Corbyn is going to be able to deliver the kind of social provision seen in the post-war boom while doing the job of maintaining imperialism.

Opportunist entourage

It is no surprise that the opportunists of the ‘left’, the Trotskyites and revisionists, have formed an entourage of supporters for the John McDonnell campaign. Socialist Worker on the 21 September 2006 states: “McDonnell’s campaign deserves support from every trade unionist. It is an important chance to raise a discussion about ditching Blairism as well as Blair”, thus attempting to obscure the real issue of social democracy and conveniently allowing the question of ditching the Labour Party to be left out of discussion.

Similarly, SWP bigwig and Stop the War luminary Lindsey German told the Respect congress in October 2006 that “if McDonnell gets his name on the ballot paper it will be a blow against Blair”.

Turning matters completely on their head, the SWP asserts that “A strong showing by McDonnell would be a step forward for the whole left, inside or outside the Labour Party. There is a chance for McDonnell to win respectable votes in the unions.” (‘John McDonnell: support for left wing leadership challenge’, Socialist Worker, 23 September 06)

Most recent issues of the Morning Star contain articles by and in support of John McDonnell, while Anita Halpin of the CPB is reported as saying “the only candidate to support must be John McDonnell”. (‘Within our grasp’, Morning Star, 8 November 2006)

Such is the opportunism of Trotskyism and revisionism, using weasel words to try to hide support for imperialism.

Diversion from real struggle

Capitalism cannot be tamed into being socialism. Policy changes and reforms will not alter the economic basis of capitalism. The agenda of the working class must be to overthrow imperialism and replace it with socialism and a most urgent task on that agenda is for the working class to free itself of social democracy.

Far from moving that agenda forward, John McDonnell’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party is in fact doing the reverse. It is trying to salvage the situation for social democracy, not by achieving a win for McDonnell, for in the first place that is unlikely and in the second place whatever he says now the Labour Party would continue to be social democratic under his leadership, but by trying to pull the support back into the Labour Party and back behind social democracy, just as the working class is showing signs of looking elsewhere for leadership.

Campaigns like this only deflect attention away from the real struggle and, consequently, prolong the suffering, death and misery that is meted out to millions of people, both at home and around the world, by British imperialism.

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